Befriending Wildness

For reasons that are just now becoming conscious for me, I have been steeping myself in wildness more than ever. And because of that, I’ve begun to notice that many others are doing the same. It’s as though nature is finally managing to vine its way back into many of our lives.

When I use the word wildness, I mean that which exists in parallel to our lives: plants that grow in cracks in our sidewalks and at the edges of our yards, the coyotes that come down into urban neighborhoods from the Santa Monica Mountains, and, of course, the night sky. These things are not separate from or unaffected by us, and yet they have this entire existence onto themselves that we typically know very little about. Like the body, where we can look for some of the clearest and simplest information, the wildness of nature offers us tremendous wisdom.

My re-acquaintance with wildness seems to have begun through gardening. More and more plants are showing up in my yard, in my home, and in my office. My clients can certainly attest to this change, which became especially apparent when a tree in a twenty gallon pot appeared atop my filing cabinet. I’ve realized that this shift in me is in direct response to what I’m seeing happen in the states and on our planet in general. It’s a place to put my care and attention that’s both needed and well-received. As a fellow therapist in my office building said, “My garden has never been so free of weeds as it is under this administration.”

It can be difficult to articulate the ways in which interacting with wildness is good for the psyche, partly because the gifts are simultaneously simple and vast, but especially because it’s such a felt experience. That in itself is a huge part of why it’s important; it’s embodied. It requires us to be present, to be tuned in, to be hands-on. We have to be aware of ourselves, the space we take up, and the impact we have. With gardening in particular, we must be committed witnesses who take action on what we see. We have to experiment to find the right course of action. Sometimes we have to be patient as a process unfolds. And all of this gets to happen alongside enjoying the beauty, oxygen, medicine, and food that plants have to offer.

With the intention of finding more words for some of these felt experiences, I just took a pause from writing to go outside for a little gardening, and was reminded of a major component of tending to the earth. It’s humbling. I have two passion fruit plants, which I sprouted from the seeds of a few fruits that I ate last year. They grow rather slowly, but just recently have begun to really look like plants. After over a year of tending to them, it’s been very rewarding to see that, and to imagine that soon they’ll begin to vine up the fence I placed them near. I’ve been wondering how many years it’ll be before they produce fruit, and have imagined how special it will be to finally eat one. Last week I noticed a caterpillar munching on one of the plants, so I moved it as politely as possible. Just now when I went out to transplant something nearby, I saw that one of the two plants was completely eaten, and that my caterpillar friends (of which there are now four) have begun on the other. Therein lies the challenge that brings humility. Do I keep fighting the caterpillars? Do I kill them? That’s an easy no for me; I made a commitment some time ago to avoid killing other creatures, unless my health or safety would definitely be affected otherwise. Fortunately those moments are blessedly rare, and that was very important to discover. We so often approach situations with a zero sum mentality when in actuality, nature rarely works that way. When we give to it, it gives to us. We just don’t always get to choose exactly what we get back. So it comes down to: do I want passion fruit, butterflies, or to plant more of something or other that the caterpillars might focus on instead? I’m going with the butterflies. And chances are I’ll get to see them cocooning somewhere nearby and I’ll get to witness their growth instead of that of my plants. Seems like a pretty fair deal to me. In this way, gardening is both self-care and activism. I get to grow and so do plants.

It’s these sort of experiences that inform my way of looking at the world in general. If I always choose convenience, to prioritize my individual needs, or narrow-mindedly stick to my original plans despite receiving new information, I’m choosing a selfish and eventually destructive path. Selfishness accumulates and eventually it affects others before finally returning to us. That is what we’re seeing now. We’ve been selfish with ourselves, with each other, and in our relationship to Earth. It’s fairly clear what we’ve been getting wrong organizationally, but what we do on the large scale is but a macrocosm of what’s happening inside our hearts and heads.

So I find it very heartening to see what’s happening in two areas in particular: art and fashion trends. Now of course I know that as the curator of my own perusal of art, I’m likely seeing more wildness than is average. But it’s clear that earth-based elements have increased within popular culture. Plants are everywhere in our art. We’re bringing crystals and minerals into our homes in both old and new ways. Geometric shapes have dominated the furniture market for several years now. And the succulent craze has brought more plants into people’s lives than any other houseplant trend in the recent past. I’d offer that this might be rivaled by the macrame extravaganza of the ’60s and ’70s, but we’ve brought those back, too. Simple shapes, raw wood, brick, beautiful glass… we are surrounding ourselves with basic elements. We must need it. And just look at all of this grounding, evocative, nature-based work…

“Bathing Beauty” by Rachael Dean

art and tattoo by Lisa Cardenas

“Mama Bird” by Racheal Rios

“eternal return” by MerakiLabbe/ Vanja Vukelic

“connected soul. spirit sisters” by Marcy Ellis

Notice how many themes are repeated across the pieces: plants, intermingling, growth, the feminine, birth and death. I am most definitely a sucker for symbology, and know well through my studies and experiences what a profound impact it can have on our psyches. Notice how often heads are replaced by plants. I love what’s suggested by finding a plant where one would normally encounter the places where our thinking, seeing, and speaking originates. I won’t ruin it by over-defining it. Just ponder that. Feel into it.

My hope for this time is that this love for the natural world does not fade from us as trends do, that we understand how badly we need to make lifelong friends with nature and wildness, and that we incorporate this knowledge into our institutions in such a way that it cannot be lost again.

Feminist Lessons from “The Craft”

At some point during our childhoods, most of us have felt the lure of magic. We see witches and warlocks in our books, movies and television shows, and although we usually harbor some healthy doubt about it all, magic still just seems so possible. I’ve come to understand that this is quite important for our development, and that it nurtures a needed respect for natural forces. We need reminders of the power and cunning of both ourselves and nature. It boosts our willingness to try things, to reflect on our ability to impact others and the world, and to simply enjoy the power of autonomy. Halloween can be an excellent excuse for seeking out such reminders and basking in that playful spookiness.  In keeping with that, let’s take a fun yet serious look at the ’90s cult classic “The Craft.”

Last autumn, I got together with a few friends to re-watch the film for the first time since I was a teen. I was fully prepared to giggle at myself a little for being so very taken by the story. Instead, I was thrilled to find a wealth of metaphors and important feminist life lessons within. I became aware of my incredible luck at being thirteen when the film came out, and how applicable it all still is. So I’ve written up for you what I see as the curriculum of the School of The Craft and its psychotherapeutic components. Not only are these lessons still relevant, many of them are vital to our movement forward out of our current collective psychic crisis. And have you noticed the increase in interest in natural magic? Magic leans heavily on forces that we have largely lost track of as a respected part of culture: intuition, instinct, benevolence, symbolism, and reverence for the earth. “Female” things that we hoped we stamped out, because they were considered dangerous. And they can be.

The Craft tugs at our innate knowing that the feminine is extraordinarily powerful. On their way to perform a ritual, the girls’ bus driver warns them to watch out for weirdos. Their iconic, perfect-for-the-trailer response is, “We are the weirdos, mister.” Though it comes from Nancy who is drunk with power, it speaks to us all the same. One of the damaging effects of patriarchy is the loss of awareness that the feminine is powerful enough to be dangerous if embodied accordingly. I remember well what I felt when I first saw that scene; it was an experience of empowered relief. The assumption that young women are inherently at risk for harm was not only rejected, it was met with a playful threat. My little thirteen-year-old self felt seen and respected and excited.

The Craft is most certainly about witchcraft and a higher understanding of nature, but I invite you to think of it as a guide to autonomy, especially that of anyone who’s experienced standard female socialization. And while I’ll be speaking to the metaphorical components often, let’s take a moment to look at the literal meaning of the term craft. To craft is to create with intention. It is to work at something, refining it over time. It’s a very active term, one that conjures an image of a person and their work before them. And all of the lessons within this film have to do with being active and aware while engaged in a process. I highlight this, because that is also the nature of therapy; it’s the maintaining of free will. We’re sure struggling right now with what that means. We’ve gotten quite mixed up on what power really is, who’s allowed to wield it, and what it’s ultimately for.

The lessons in The Craft are a sweet little guidebook for answering those questions, and they boil down to four elements (of course): the importance of embracing magic, how to hone your skills, what to watch out for, and how to make your craft sustainable. For the sake of brevity, I will only be referring to plot points rather than spending much time describing them, so ideally you’ll know the film well or treat yourself to a viewing soon.

Embracing Magic

Embrace your power with both confidence and humility. Sarah and Nancy are our two stark examples here. When we are introduced to Sarah, we learn that she is being plagued by snakes. Historically, snakes represent both good and evil- creation in all its forms. Lirio the shopkeeper speaks to this later on, “Magic is both, because nature is both.” Sarah’s visions of the snakes represents the fear of her own power. Eventually we learn that she believes herself to be responsible for her mother’s death, and so indeed she would fear her power, wouldn’t she? This struggle results in depression and suicidality, a direct result of the neglect of her unique abilities. Despite this, she begins and ends the most balanced character. When we first see her use magic, she is simply playing with it to amuse herself. That is an excellent way to begin your relationship with just about anything. Curiosity and exploration are fruitful attributes. Sarah  also learns and grows continuously throughout the story, a result of having multiple resources that are very important for any of us: supportive family members and/or friends, mentoring, and consistent practice and reflection with her natural talents/witching power. These things provide a solidity that we see in her often. And as we see later on, it is especially through the healing of her relationship with her mother that she is able to embrace and embody her power. It’s a trope for a reason; our relationship to our origins affects how we are in the world.

In contrast to Sarah’s fear of it, Nancy is desperate for power in order to help herself and her mother escape from their situation. Of course she would struggle with finding humility, because she’s been through years of humiliation. As soon as she is able to embody some power, she clamors for more. We all do this in some way when we finally get our hands on something we’ve been deprived of for a long time. Neglect and desperation do not bring out the best in us, and we’ll look at this a bit more when we explore the warnings.

Surrender to natural forces. The four cardinal directions/ elements thing used to give me the mellow drama shivers, but I’ve come to understand that they are symbolic and that what they symbolize are essential elements for healthy autonomy. Traditions come with intentions, which sometimes just get lost along the way or lose their usefulness. This is part of what makes it important to be interested in what’s come before us- in what we can relate to or what may still apply. So what ever your relationship to this sort of earth-based spirituality, there is wisdom to be gained through looking at these symbols.

Each direction is associated with an element and further so with the attributes of those elements. These associations are not always agreed upon, which works just fine. The intention is simply to embrace and respect what they represent, not the symbol itself. Here’s one structure to feel into:

west/ earth: sunset, downward movement, movement into darkness, cooling, endings, autumn, old age
south/ fire: the sun, forward movement, heat, brightness, fullness, summer, adulthood
east/ air: dawn, upward movement, warming, beginnings, spring, birth and youth
north/ water: darkness, stillness, cold, rest, relaxation, the moon, winter, pre-birth

These qualities show up across cultures and religions (often in sets of threes or fours), because they are inescapable truths. We are living on a planet that has a natural rhythym and cycles, and these cycles affect us. When it’s warm, we feel more energetic. When it’s cold, we slow down. Embracing and utilizing this awareness allows us to experience, explore and make use of different aspects and expressions of ourselves. This is part of how we grow by trying on a variety of ways to be. This is also a part of humility, as it’s a surrendering to your place within the world. And so the girls surrender themselves to Manon in order to tap into their deepest magical abilities. Manon represents an embodiment of nature; a figure symbolizing our wild nature.

For me this is another extraordinarily important feminist lesson from The Craft. It has always been important for us to befriend and work alongside nature, but we’ve allowed it to become an issue of survival as a species. I like to think of the huge strides we’ve made against the patriarchy as a return of the sacred feminine. While what that term means is quite subjective, it is almost universally accepted the the feminine is deeply connected to nature. I believe that that is exactly what the feminine has to teach the masculine right now- that all of these attributes must be honored collectively. And so, this ritual of invoking Manon represents a union between the masculine and the feminine or more simply put, an embracing of reality. And reality is exactly where we must begin to get anything of lasting value/any good witching done. Those who understand the psychotherapeutic process know this well. We are stagnated by any lack of facing truth.

Allow yourself to be vulnerable. I hope this flows intuitively from the topic of truth and surrender. Vulnerability is a huge part of how good things come into fruition. As they enter the sacred space of their coven, the girls ask of each other, “How do you enter the circle? The only answer that grants them access is, “With perfect trust and perfect love.” I very much enjoy how clear it is to us that this needs to be true. True, honest, full submission/surrender is the doorway to deep connection and intimacy, because it’s an honest presentation of ourselves. It is essential to our ability to feel and enjoy things, because it allows us to be affected. It is how we connect authentically to others by bearing the skin we wish to have touched. And it is only through feeling and connecting that we can wield useful, healthy magic.

Honing Your Skills

Spells are simply the repetition of messages. As a psychotherapist, I’m really keen on spreading awareness of this particular lesson. What we repeat to ourselves is incredibly powerful, and it almost always yields results. Bonnie describes this in so many words when they first take Sarah to the magic shop. She offers Sarah a spellbook in which she can write her most precious thoughts and desires, which she is to share with no one except maybe the coven. That sure sounds like a diary, doesn’t it? A spellbook/diary is quite simply a collection of our most precious and powerful articulations. I’m also reminded of the chanting and singing that happens at protest marches, or the particular words repeated in the news, in entertainment media, or in advertising. Though they begin as symbols, words become truer and realer the more often we encounter them. They can penetrate, unlock, inspire, tear down- they are ultimately capable of doing what ever it is they intend to do. And this is especially true when they are adopted by an increasing number of people, whether it be your coven or your culture.

Seek your elders. I wish there were a way to impart this lesson very early. I suppose there is, as cultures that know this well do a pretty great job of engendering it. And I suspect it’s pretty important for our psychic health to go through a period of rejecting outside knowledge, just as it’s important to know a lesson viscerally rather than simply intellectually. So perhaps it’s better said that I wish we knew better to seek our elders early on in our struggles. Lirio the shopkeeper is a beautiful example of the helpful relationship one can have with an elder. She is strong and solid, she’s available rather than ever-present, and she offers wisdom without advice. She also points Sarah back to her own family, in this case, as a source of wisdom and power. She’d likely have done the same with Nancy (though for different reasons), if given an opening.

Be reflective. This means we must actively seek growth and regularly heed warnings. We need to be curious when others try to warn us about ourselves or how we’re living our lives/ using our magic. It’s not that they’re always exactly right and sometimes they aren’t right at all, but there is often something there of use. The girls have a conversation in the car one night about what they’re noticing in each other. Sarah’s concern about Nancy is especially potent. But as can happen in group dynamics, her warning is won out by the power of willful disinterest. Had Nancy or any of the girls spent some time self-reflecting on what Sarah said, they may have discovered some of their unresolved bits and been able to avoid some or all of the damage that came down the road. In the event that Sarah’s worries had been off and therefore more reflective of her own process, that too would be useful information and not just for her. What’s evoked in a relationship tells us much about its health and maturity, which in turn tells us something of us through clarifying our place in it. And knowing ourselves and having some insight about others is essential to the collective ability to safely be and express ourselves in the world.

Warnings

Desperation drives greed. Nancy couldn’t be a better example of this, and of the systemically damaging effects of sexual and physical trauma and of low socioeconomic status. Nancy uses her new-found power liberally and violently, which is exactly how she’s experienced others using power with her. Desperation is excellent at causing us to hatch sloppy and too-simple plans, because it causes us to overfocus on ourselves in an attempt at survival. It keeps us looking dead ahead for anything that vaguely matches what we’re searching for. This failure to take in your periphery can cause a lot of damage, and ultimately results in a lack of satisfaction. This point is very common in our stories and myths about power- Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of OZ, etc.- because it speaks to a deep truth. How we use power is dependent on what we’ve been through and how much we’ve grown from it.

Use power for or with, not against. Nancy is a useful character here too, both in the aforementioned ways as well as in the final dramatic scene when she attempts to destroy Sarah. But my favorite iteration of this comes through Rochelle, because it includes more complexity. After being mercilessly bullied by racist mean girl Laura, Rochelle casts a spell on her that causes her to begin losing her hair. It is certainly effective for draining Laura’s power, and has the potential to bring her a healthy dose of humility. But through the strength of the spell, it becomes humiliating and terrifying instead. In witnessing Laura’s experience of this, Rochelle begins to develop empathy for her pain, and finds that her spell was an over-correction. As she allows it to go on, shame grows inside of her, culminating in that perfect scene where she looks in the mirror to find that her reflection refuses to look back. What a useful warning this is, because it really can be terribly tempting to inflict pain on those who have hurt us. But it just never feels the way we want it to. If we do manage to cause pain, we realize that we’ve only continued the trend of violence. And any failure to recognize this over-correction is a strong indication of desperation for power, as with Nancy. As Lirio puts it to her, “It is not for you to judge suffering.”

What you put out comes back times three. We as a species have endless ways of saying this, and I suspect that’s because we have a helluva time living this truth. This particular articulation is drawn from the Wiccan Three-Fold Law, but we also know it as karma, the gospel of Matthew, equilibrium, the Golden Rule, the fourth step, or seven generation stewardship. Ultimately it’s another path to humility, to knowing and accepting our place in the grand scheme. When it comes to nature, you can practically write an equation for it. Fuck with balance, and eventually you will be shoved as strongly as needed back into place. It is in experiencing this natural law that we learn to be acutely aware of the effects of our impact. Ideally we don’t put it to the test often, though our little subconscious tests here and there are also part of our ongoing growth.

Sustaining Your Craft

Be mindful of the entirety of your wishes. Sarah offers some insight here early on, sharing with the other girls a few moments when spells went wrong because she didn’t fully understand how to craft them, like when she wished for quiet and went deaf for days. But let’s look at what we mean when we say, “be careful what you wish for, because it’s not just about semantics or simply recognizing the reality of getting what you want. We covered this a bit in looking at how desperation can cause blindspots for complexity and nuance. Sarah, for instance, did not ask to be understood, accepted, or respected by Chris; she asked to be loved. When her spell works and his love for her is devoid of other attributes, the result is off-putting and even gets dangerous. For me this is one of the most current and important feminist messages within the film. For a relationship to go well, all parties must be acknowledged as distinct, whole, complex, and autonomous. But internalized sexism can cause us to overlook the need for that kind of understanding and respect, because a scarcity of those experiences results in an unlearned lesson about how vital they are for healthy relationships.

Stay humble. We’ve looked at the importance of humility, but I think it bears repeating from a different angle. You have to stay a little afraid of magic/power, because it is exactly that: powerful. If you try to own it, overuse it, or use it for harm, there will be consequences. This too is reflected back to us by nature. If we don’t work with natural rhythms, we’ll be forced to face unintended consequences. I find this to be gut-wrenchingly apparent when dozens of sea creatures wash ashore, and Nancy takes this not as an indication of over-doing it, but as a gift from Manon. The loss of any life deserves consideration and respect. Otherwise we risk entering dangerous hierarchical thinking.

Allow things to play out. This is another way in which we must surrender and remain humble. Autonomy and magic is not about continuously wielding control. It’s about affecting things where you are able, and allowing for a process to unfold. As we’ve seen when we rush things, the results are often messy or incomplete. It simply takes time to see how something will unfold, and that gives us needed space for reflection and adaptation.

Feed your intuition. It is the essence of autonomy/magic. This lesson is delivered and then practiced in an especially delightful way, as the writing plucks at our intuition over and over. Those snakes seem important, Nancy seems dangerous, Lirio is both intimidating and comforting, Sarah’s spell over Chris seems misguided, Laura seems too hurt. The overarching message here is always the same: feed your intuition by listening to it. Insight and empathy are essential sources of information, and we can only hone them as tools by testing them out repeatedly.

***

If you find yourself thinking of other metaphors within The Craft that I haven’t covered, well, me too! There really are just so many gems. I could say a lot more in particular about Chris as a prototypical misogynist, though I suspect we could get distracted by having too much of a villain. Villains, like predators, will sometimes pick us off the path. We have to remember that they do this when they know they can’t beat us as a group. It is often enough to know that they’re there and equip ourselves appropriately, and to then stay focused on healthy movement forward. So I’ll end with one of my favorite lessons.

We are always stronger together. The necessity of a fourth person to complete the coven is not random; it’s symbolic. There are four elements; we can’t leave any out, just as we can’t leave out anyone when we’re trying to work on the grand scale. As we see with Sarah in the final scene, we can do magic alone. But the less of us there are, the smaller the scale of our work. And it takes four to levitate.

Happy Halloween, readers.

Shame Overload

Shame fills the little hollow cavity that vulnerability creates.
-Kate Sheehan

Kate is my therapist. She said this to me in session when I was struggling to make sense of an emotional reaction I’d had. I think it’s a perfect articulation of the somatic experience of shame, and it was especially useful to me in that moment, because I hadn’t yet become aware that shame is what I was feeling. And that’s the thing about shame. It is so good at its job that you don’t even know it’s there. I think that’s exactly what’s happening in our country right now. It’s an ugly process the way it’s being held within our current political structure, but people are bringing it into the therapy room and it tends to go pretty damn well there. So let’s look at why and how, and get moving on resolving this on the cultural level.

Let’s begin by giving shame a face so that we can keep our eyes right on it, which is what shame both hates and needs. Shame is extreme discomfort caused by the feeling of not being ok with oneself. This discomfort stems from a chasm between how a person is seeing themselves or believing themselves to be seen, and how they believe they are supposed to be according to their own standards or societal ones. I often go to the words of Brené Brown for guidance here, and her distinction between guilt and shame is particularly handy: where guilt is “I did something bad,” shame is, “I am bad.” Somatically-speaking, it is the desire to hide when feeling more than a tolerable amount of discomfort with being seen. When we feel shame, we are often motivated to hide at any cost- sometimes literally, sometimes behind thoughts and words. Most painful and most insidious is that shame can be so good at getting us to hide that we will sometimes hide from ourselves. Typing #metoo into the town hall that is social media has been a way to bring ourselves back out into the light, and into the light we are bringing the shame that forced us into darkness. That affords us an incredible opportunity to face and dispel toxicity. But the gravity around shame is strong.

Allow me to disclaim right here that this article does not contain anything graphic, but I am going to discuss various aspects of sexual trauma and that alone can evoke difficult sensations and emotions. Please go slow in reading, and use your intuition to take care of yourself in what ever way you might need. What I’ll be focused on here is the role shame is playing within the #MeToo Movement and how to manage shame outside of the therapy setting, because we are struggling like crazy with resolving our collective experience of it. And thank goodness, because we are long, long overdue.

Brown writes that “shame gets it power from being unspeakable.” I would bet that that’s hugely why it’s taken us so long to begin to look at these topics that evoke so much shame, and why we’re having such a wretched time with it. Working with shame means regularly walking the line between tolerability and traumatization. That is exactly why trauma work requires a trained and practiced professional. And yet here we are having to work it out within our social-political structure.

So let’s get into what shame needs. In the therapeutic setting, shame surfaces the most often around intimacy and sexuality, and especially around sexual or physical trauma. This is because the body and its contact with others is the most potent medium through which we experience ourselves and the world. When these experiences go poorly, especially if they go poorly many times and/or are traumatic enough, shame begins to take up space within them. If we are quite young when these difficult or traumatic experiences happen, shame is particularly likely to rush in as a way to protect us. It is, in fact, a penultimate resort- the last stop before dissociating entirely. Sometimes it simply becomes a launching pad into exactly that. We can’t avoid feeling, but we can avoid feeling what we’re feeling. It’s a brilliant mechanism when we have nothing else at our disposal, and the protective part is something to keep. The work is in replacing shame with other forms of protection, so that feeling can become safe again.

In somatic work, we work directly with the experience of being seen in the literal sense. When in the therapy space a client and I are onto shame and its sneaky little game, we begin to look at the nature of our eye contact, at how much space is between us in the room, whether I’m facing them directly or I’m at an angle, what sort of physical contact might be helpful, if any- all these ways in which we can contact each other in the room. What we’re doing is finding out together what’s needed in order to have safe, comfortable, authentic connection, which is the antidote to shame. From there we continue to practice listening and responding to the body as we work to stay in contact with ourselves and each other.

Let’s deepen this a bit further with an example of how shame typically shows up around sexuality, since it’s sexual content we’re dealing with in our cultural struggle right now. In the therapy room, the experience usually goes something like this: a person realizes that naming something sexual is necessary within what we’re exploring (that is in itself a feat to be celebrated since shame will keep us quiet for a long time). This might be a fantasy or desire, a masturbatory habit, a frightening encounter, or even just a casual remark with sexual content. Even if there’s conscious awareness of how it could help, the disclosure might be followed by sensations of shame. Shame needs no invitation from us. So a person might begin to feel things like: a sinking sensation, pressure in the chest, closing one’s eyes, covering the face, feeling cold, feeling numb, feeling floaty or fuzzy, feeling confused. These sensations overlap heavily with the symptoms of dissociation, and that makes sense, right? Shame is about hiding, and dissociating is a very effective way to hide by hiding from what you’re feeling. For that same reason, anger has a high chance of surfacing in this space. It will sometimes surface when shame is being evoked, and sometimes it will rush in to replace the experience of shame after it’s begun to be felt. Feeling angry is especially common for people who were raised not to show any vulnerability. They don’t know what to do the feeling when it surfaces, so they feel angry at whoever or whatever made them aware of feeling it. I find it really helpful to know how common this is, because it helps me to respond appropriately. Let’s spend another moment on that.

One of the aspects of shame that seems to me to be the least understood is that it will surface entirely on its own. It doesn’t need to be drawn out or added to. Because it’s a protective mechanism of the autonomic nervous system, it pops up automatically. So what’s needed most for the experience of shame to become useful is for it to be safe to become vulnerable. I like to think of shame, and guilt too, like an alarm bell; it lets us know that there’s something to pay attention to. The struggle almost always comes in the response. We have to know how to pay the right sort of attention to shame to create a proper holding environment for resolving what ever is being highlighted by the shame. This is exactly what makes it so incredible when a person who has been a victim of sexual violence is able to speak up for themselves despite a high likelihood of being shamed. They are doing for themselves in that moment something that very few of us can do: create the space to be vulnerable, open up our chests, and keep them open by shrouding them with respect, kindness, and acceptance as we are pummeled with anything but.

I wanted to get this piece of writing out and into your inboxes and feeds, so I’m publishing it in its current form. I keep starting into other components of this dynamic we have around shame, but it’s getting too big for one article. I know what that drive is in me, which also motivates me to stop here for now: I want to help you create a safe holding space for yourself right this very moment, so that you can get on with the beautiful experience of being free to feel. But shame can’t be rushed out the door too quickly, or it comes back louder. The work is only done well at a steady pace. So I’ll keep at it and give you more pieces as soon as I am able to paint them, but I’ll leave you with the name of one particular portrait.

It is incredibly important to this process that we end the stigma around mental health, which contributes to the perpetuation of a hierarchical structure. Right now we’re working with an especially ugly version of patriarchy, but any hierarchical structure is problematic unless (or probably even if) we know how to be truly fair with anyone who we encounter. And this is not to diminish the agonizingly harmful effects of Patriarchy in itself; the problem is cyclical. Patriarchy perpetuates mental illness and the failure to address mental illness serves to maintain Patriarchal structures. If you want to dive further into understanding this in its complexity, I highly recommend the writing of James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, and Laurie Penny. They will show you how necessary it is to understand not just basic but complex principles of psychology and sociology. Low emotional intelligence is a severe hindrance to critical thinking. I happen to believe that emotional intelligence should be a core curriculum subject beginning in the first grade. Naturally there are many people out there teaching children how to notice and make use of their sensations and emotions. Yet what we’re seeing right now is in part an effect of a collectively low ability to address our intrapsychic worlds, so we know that we have to keep working at this. It’s a skill that needs to be more widespread and practiced far earlier in life, so as you move back out into the world after reading this, know that you can have an immediate, steady impact on all of this by being a proponent of mental health literacy.

Jordan Hardin on “Sacred Masculinity”

If you haven’t yet read my introduction to this series, please do. It provides a foundation for these interviews, and defines “sacred masculinity” as we’re using it here.

Jordan Hardin is the sort of person who reminds you what true authenticity feels like. He’s present and grounded, genuinely interested in just about everything, and delightfully prone to whimsy. His honesty and openness calls upon those around him to show up authentically in return, which makes him really great to be around and a needed presence in the world.

Jordan serves as Food and Beverage Director for Alfred Inc. which includes Alfred Tea Room and multiple locations of Alfred Coffee in Los Angeles. Here his creativity and passion for gustatory delights gets to shine.

If you’ve been a reader of mine for some time, you may know him from the beautiful interview he and Nick Westbrook gave on male friendship. He also generously donated the use of his voice for one of my guided mindfulness meditation recordings. He’s just an awfully swell creature, so I keep wanting more people to know him, and I’m quite honored that he agreed to be part of this interview series.

What would you say are the characteristics of sacred masculinity?

I would say balance. The forces of masculine and feminine need harmony in order to mean anything at all. Masculinity is sacred because of its relationship with the feminine. It’s not all-encompassing being, but a persuasion, based on inherited and learned traits. If that persuasion isn’t balanced but rather forced into a feedback loop, then masculinity becomes toxic. The sacred is reserved for the eternal and for all intents and purposes, the shared experience of being a man (or a woman) is that sacredness.

Who are your archetypes of masculinity?

My grandfather, to be sure. If I had to point to a person who taught me what it meant to be a man, with male characteristics from an older time, while at the same time respecting, protecting, and working together with women, it was him. He was masculine in the way you might think a farmer is (which I actually find humorous since farming tended to be seen as a feminine spirit in ancient times), somebody who worked for a living and expected everyone around him to do the same, my grandmother, mother, and me included. He was also a gentleman and taught me how I should treat women, that is, with kindness, gentleness, and love. He has an anecdote or wise phrase for everything, like, “Jordan, if you raise your voice in an argument, then you’ve already lost it,” and, “Jordan, I never hit nobody who didn’t deserve to be hit. But you never hit a woman. Not in the least because some of them hit back.” He was not without his flaws (who is?), but he also never talked down or around his spouse. They complimented each other. He had two daughters and from what I can tell, he treated them as he would’ve anyone, teaching them self-respect and self-reliance, something that was passed on to me in whatever ways it could be.

What do you think is needed for more of us to understand and embody these traits?

Shared experience, conversation, and equal duties and roles. If a boy lives with, works with, and communicates with girls and women on an equal level, then I have no doubt he will see them as equals, even if he’s told not to. To help with this, we need more female voices to be heard, to be channeled into men’s brains so that empathy and compassion have no course but to spring to life within. Through media, through the workplace, through the close relationships men have. And I believe men need to talk a hard look at themselves and contemplate the reasons they act the way they do. Why do they get angry? Why do they become sexually aroused? Why do they feel the need to dominate situations, or not? The answer inevitably connects to what they think it is to be a man and when they can identify that, they can try to balance it with the conceptual experience of women (supported by the female voices they will have hopefully heard).

What role(s) do you believe the masculine has in regards to the feminine? What do you see as a balanced dynamic there?

The answer for me is that the masculine is a trait of strength and the feminine the trait of protection. What gets extremely problematic in regards to the dynamic between the masculine and feminine is when a culture starts pretending the roles are more separate than they are. There is a great deal of cohesion between masculine and feminine spheres, but for reasons far too complex to get into, they’ve historically been relegated to separate spheres. I’m not arguing that they are entirely the same, of course, but that the shared experience is much more similar. Much more similar than yin and yang might suggest. Balance is the key. Both masculine and feminine are capable of completing the journey, whatever it may be, but sometimes one is needed more than the other. All humans embody both traits, and they should embrace that.

What is the role of vulnerability in strength?

I’d say that typically, true strength comes directly from vulnerability. To be vulnerable is to be open to attack. Not allowing those attacks to destroy you is an element of strength. Strength isn’t beating opposing ideas into submission, it’s allowing ideas to be torn apart and to try and understand why they were torn apart, and to keep thinking. Strength isn’t taking everything on yourself, it’s realizing that the group has more strength than the individual and asking for help. And strength isn’t being emotionless, it’s learning to understand and deal with your emotions so that you can live a good and productive life.

How would you re-define the phrase, “be a man?”

I’ve been told this many many times in my life. Mostly by men (occasionally by women) and mostly as a call to reject my emotions, which I feel is counterproductive. This is typically a reprimand, but I’d reinterpret it to be an empowering statement. This could only work if the idea of manhood is redefined, but I’d love to see it as a course of action that drives men to be strong but in a supportive way, and to be emotional but in a thoughtful way. To be resilient and resourceful while also acknowledging you don’t know everything. I could easily see this being an inspirational statement to many young boys, rather than an excuse to make them stop crying.

What do you think we’ve been getting wrong about masculinity?

That being masculine means that you aren’t emotional, scared, or vulnerable. We have to remember our common traits of humanity and see masculinity as a shade of those traits, rather than a cover.

What’s your favorite thing about being a man?

Wow! What a question… I’ve had to think about this question much longer than the others and come back to it. I think it’s almost easier to say what I dislike most about being a man. I mean, many of the things that have made my life much easier, as the result of being a man, come at great personal cost to others, so I don’t feel right saying that I like those things. But I’d rather be positive here, and this probably isn’t the answer you’re looking for and I’m sorry for that, but I’d have to say the fact that I can gain muscle and loose fat very quickly. I mean, this is just pure genetics, but it’s a benefit!

What do you believe might be the future of masculinity?

I believe that masculinity needs to have balance, and will be forced to reckon with that. However, I also think that culture cannot control instinct 100%, and the instinct for aggression and dominance will never be stamped out (down a rabbit hole here, but perhaps they shouldn’t be either?). For what we can make of it, masculinity will evolve in equanimity with femininity and hopefully that balance will come for the majority of peoples.

You can follow Jordan on Twitter and Instagram, and find his poetic writing about tea and coffee culture at worldoftea.org.

Ty Volante on “Sacred Masculinity”

If you haven’t yet read my introduction to this series, please do. It provides a foundation for these interviews, and defines “sacred masculinity” as we’re using it here.

Ty Volante is a tender spirit with a gentle strength. My partner once called him the kind of guy you’d want to have in a repopulating-the-earth sort of situation, and I absolutely agree. He looks for growth, understanding, and enjoyment in most everything he does, and he especially enjoys when any of this happens outdoors. He can often be found enjoying the company of others, philosophizing, talking politics, or engaged in what ever sport the weather will allow.

Ty is an especially delightful interviewee for me to have the honor of including, because he was my first male best friend and also the first guy I met who didn’t play by gender “rules.” When we met at the sweet age of thirteen, he had rainbow hair and painted nails. I thought that was the coolest, and there has certainly been no shortage of coolness to witness in him in the twenty-two years that we’ve been friends since.

What would you say are the characteristics of sacred masculinity?

Certainly, strength is one that immediately comes to mind. Courage seems like another that transcends time and cultural influences. Toughness. Adventurousness…

In starting to answer this, I found myself a bit stumped on the most essential characteristics beyond the ones above that immediately popped into my mind, so I turned to the global repository of human knowledge for inspiration. Surprisingly, the first link I clicked on gave me what I was looking for. Despite the cringe-worthy décor and title, this website and this article in particular did, I thought, a nice job at distilling a response to this question. It doesn’t hurt that it confirmed some of my already-written responses. Though I don’t agree with all of it, I thought it was interesting. Below are a couple of notable passages, though I’d encourage reading the whole thing.

“These were the factors that our forbearers weighed on the scale in making the decision to assign the protector role to men. It wasn’t a matter of plain sexism, and trying to keep women down, but a basic biological calculation. In a harsh environment that was rife with perils both natural and human, it was a strategic decision designed to increase a tribe’s chances of survival and keep the most people alive. Individual desires and differences were trumped by group needs.

Thus, an innate attraction to and greater comfort with violence likely naturally drew men to the way of the warrior and made them well-suited for being tasked with the role of protector.

Donovan argues that understanding the dynamics of these ancient honor groups is the key to understanding the essence of male psychology and how men relate to, interact, and judge each other even up through the modern day. What men respect in other men (and women find attractive), is rooted in what men wanted in the men to the left and the right of them as they stood together side-by-side on the perimeter.

Strength, courage, mastery, and honor are virtues that obviously aren’t exclusive to men, and it’s not that there haven’t been women who have embodied these traits in every age (as we shall see next time, the idea of a soft, fragile femininity is a modern conception). It isn’t that women shouldn’t seek these attributes either. Rather, the tactical virtues comprise the defining traits of masculinity. If a woman isn’t strong or acts afraid in the face of danger, no one thinks of her as less womanly because of it. Yet such shortcomings will be seen as emasculating in a man, even today.”

I also liked this quote I found on a very different site that sort of reaches the same conclusion, with different terms: “Rather than defining strength as ‘power over,’ feminist masculinity defines strength as one’s capacity to be responsible for self and others.”

Who are your archetypes of masculinity?

Growing up, they were mostly those I was exposed to through popular culture. Tom Cruise in Top Gun. Harrison Ford as Han Solo. Clint Eastwood in everything. Superman, Batman and other male superheros in comic books. Today, I would say mostly athletes, especially the ones that exist amongst environments rife with toxic masculinity (professional sports) but avoid the negative expressions of their gender that are so ubiquitous there. Interestingly, one could argue that athletics are modern displays of all of the things that make people good warriors and protectors. Strength (really all physical attributes, but the more ‘manly’ games emphasize strength), teamwork, quick-thinking and strategy, passion, fearlessness/courage. In the way that the author of the post in the last question defined the most essential traits of masculinity as the traits you’d look for in who you’d want to stand with you in war, the modern analog is, what are the traits you’d select in a teammate? In so far as the athlete is the modern archetype of masculinity, he is all of those things, but constrained by honor, respect and sportsmanship. President Obama is, to me, an archetype of the modern expression of masculinity – mentally fit, articulate, strategic, loving, virtuous and kind. He seems like a good man who is also good at being a man, to use a turn of phrase from the article above. And maybe more fundamentally, like I think most people who grew up with a [healthy] father in their lives, he is an archetype that teaches us what it is to “be a man.”

What do you think is needed for more of us to understand and embody these traits?

First, I think we need to spend more time as a society asking ourselves what our archetypes should look like, and what makes up the ideals and traits of our conception of masculinity. As much as these ideals are shaped by our cultural lenses, we need to understand our roles in creating them and how we have the ability to encourage or discourage a healthier view of masculinity. And then, we need more leadership from men that will demonstrate (live) these traits in highly visible ways that inspire and compel others to do so too as well as establish them as the ideals.

What role(s) do you believe the masculine has in regards to the feminine? What do you see as a balanced dynamic there?

Yin and Yang. Both equal and essential parts of a whole. Without one, the other is not complete. Just as men need women to continue our species, and vice versa, masculine energy needs its aggressive and violent tendencies softened and smoothed out by feminine energy. In fact, I think most of the problems we see in modern society are due to an imbalance in the way that masculine energy has an out-sized influence in what is predominantly a global patriarchal structure.

What is the role of vulnerability in strength?

Someone smarter than me once said, “Strength is not having no weaknesses, but it is the ability to recognize one’s weaknesses and to address them.” I’m not sure if that relates to vulnerability exactly, nor was it meant to, but I think admitting weaknesses or shortcomings can be viewed as a form of vulnerability. Furthermore, asking for help in addressing weakness is a form of vulnerability because it requires saying to another, “I’m not perfect, and I need your help.” Any time we rely on someone or ask them for help, that requires a level of vulnerability, and so far as we all have flaws, we all should learn to rely on others.

How would you re-define the phrase, “be a man?”

I would like to redefine it “be a good man” in the way that the following passage explains the difference between being a ‘good man’ and ‘being good at being a man.’

“Strength, courage, mastery, and honor are the attributes needed in a team of Navy SEALs just as much as a family of Mafioso. If you’ve ever wondered why we are fascinated by gangsters, pirates, bank robbers, and outlaws of all stripes, and can’t help but think of them as pretty manly despite their thuggery and extralegal activities, now you know; they’re not good men, but they’ve mastered the core fundamentals of being good at being men.”

That is, I’d like it to mean not only ‘be manly,’ as if that was something valuable or good in and of itself, which it isn’t really, but ‘be a better person.’

What do you think we’ve been getting wrong about masculinity?

That it just means power and that it is the antonym of weakness. And that being good at being a man means the same thing as being a good man. See above. Finally, that there is no room in masculinity for emotion.

What’s your favorite thing about being a man?

Other than the convenience of standing peeing, I don’t know if I have one. I joke, but seriously, most of the things that are enjoyable about being a man come from the power and privilege bestowed by a partriarchical society that is fundamentally unjust and that I’d like to see become more egalitarian. I suppose one thing that I enjoy is that I don’t have as much societal (and/or biological) pressure to have children younger than I have felt ready.

What do you believe might be the future of masculinity?

I think it will look more like femininity or at least a less pronounced version of what it is now, as more people come to see the virtues of both and the need for balance and the fact that we all possess both types of energy, if only we were not culturally bound by the need to express only one and conform to the mold. The future I see, both men and women are more balanced beings, exhibiting the gender traits that feel more comfortable or natural to them, with no pressure from society to conform to one or the other, but blend the best parts of both and celebrate that, free from social stigma.

Get a little more Ty on Instagram.

Dr. Nigel Stepp on “Sacred Masculinity”

If you haven’t yet read my introduction to this series, please do. It provides a foundation for these interviews, and defines “sacred masculinity” as we’re using it here.

Nigel Stepp is a natural born scientist- one who became a career scientist not because of a desire to possess knowledge, but simply to enjoy it. His doctorate is in experimental psychology and he works in the Information and Systems Sciences Laboratory at HRL. His work steeps him in abstraction, which affords the ability to look at things from multiple angles and clarify their forms. This intimate way of approaching knowledge permeates much of his life, and it’s palpable when you’re in his presence. His dedicated curiosity and eloquence is very inspiring. And his particular flavor of appreciation for truth is a reminder that intimate understanding is rarely disappointing, and that awareness yields possibility.

I was hoping this interview series would go the direction that Nigel takes it through the complexity and depth of his answers. The concept of masculinity really is multi-layered, and as he demonstrates, understanding it more intimately is a provocative and important experience.

What would you say are the characteristics of sacred masculinity?

This one is tough, since I consider that term to be yours, so I feel like I would not be able to add anything more than my understanding of what you mean by sacred masculinity. I could, however, say something about the characteristics of masculinity that should be preserved, appreciated, or acknowledged. The rest of these questions seem to address just that.

Who are your archetypes of masculinity?

For me it’s telling that nothing comes to mind immediately. Instead, I have an awareness of what sorts of archetypes are out there. There’s the gritty and martial Rambo-Norris; the suave, but pickled Bogart-Draper; the differently violent Bond-Brando. I would not identify any of these as my own, but using them as counter-examples helps to narrow the field. The goal in calling these counter-examples is not to be contrary, or say there’s anything wrong with any of them, but to reflect and investigate a lack of connection that I personally have with some of these more common masculine traits.

Each has some lack of dimensionality, even taking into account the inherent flatness of an archetype. For these, flatness is baked in as part of the archetype itself. And so perhaps I should look towards complexity of character.

Further, the counter-examples often rest upon or celebrate a flaw of character. This leaves masculinity painting itself as the underdog that has overcome something, through physical dominance, social position, cunning, or even sleight of hand. This suggests a true masculine trait of introspection, with which one’s character flaw is that thing overcome.

Finally, most male archetypes seem to be defined in terms of an other. The vanquished foe, the arch enemy, the ex-lover, the needful family.

Picking up the pieces, I am left with a complex character who overcomes his own weaknesses to act authentically in the moment. So who is that?

What do you think is needed for more of us to understand and embody these traits?

Time enough in our thoughts and reactions to follow those threads of complexity. What is needed to make that happen is a much harder question, since it really is an adjustment to what ends up being a reaction, or even a reflex.

The breaking down of the surface shell of masculinity and femininity may help, since it can cover up the depths underneath.

What role(s) do you believe the masculine has in regards to the feminine?/ What do you see as a balanced dynamic there?

It’s hard not to immediately go with a Yin/Yang approach — as far as I can tell it maps perfectly, at least as far as the mixing of two components go. But the question is more specific than that.

The role of the masculine is to be counterpoint (as is the feminine). In all self-organizing systems there is an interplay of opposing forces. If the forces are both balanced, and defined in terms of the other, then complex patterns emerge. Order may rise out of disorder.

Getting more specific, what are the masculine elements of those opposing forces? How many dimensions do we want to look at? How many dimensions are there? We could talk about different kinds of strength, which seems to be the most obvious (cliché?), but as they sometimes say in academia, that feels like stamp-collecting. An enumeration of things without regard to the encompassing theory.

Taking self-organization all the way, we can guess that the roles are context dependent. In fact there’s already an answer above: in a given context, the masculine role is to overcome a weaknesses to act authentically.

What is the role of vulnerability in strength?

Strength without vulnerability amounts to luck, or at least happenstance. It also works against adaptation, which is the road to increased future strength.

For me, this comes from an image of an armored chariot rider, with plates of steel scaled around him and his horse, speeding through ranks of infantry. Each groundling is cast off without regard as he passes. Surely this chariot rider is exhibiting great strength, but what will happen when he gets to where he is going? What happens if he should have noticed a shifting pattern in ground or fodder. Why is he difficult to admire for his effort?

How would you re-define the phrase, “be a man?”

To re-define, we must agree on a definition. To me, this phrase usually means to stop worrying about pain or consequences and do the thing that must be done. To that I would add a flavor of selflessness, and will re-invoke my male archetype: a complex character who overcomes his own weaknesses to act authentically in the moment.

What do you think we’ve been getting wrong about masculinity?

This question is more complex than it appears. Who is we and what is wrong? So I won’t pretend to answer the whole question, but will choose a few points and maybe answer a smaller question. Something that is wrong about some views of masculinity is that it is vulnerable. I don’t mean that it contains vulnerability, which it does, but that masculinity itself is under attack and in danger of being wiped out. Rather it looks like masculinity is getting bigger, even more durable by being more flexible.

What do you believe might be the future of masculinity?

Taking the Yin/Yang approach again, it looks like masculinity might be headed towards identifying with the big curvy bit that folds together with femininity, rather than just the insular dot. Of course it’s both, but maybe it’s been a little one-sided lately.

Jay on “Sacred Masculinity”

If you haven’t yet read my introduction to this series, please do. It provides a foundation for these interviews, and defines “sacred masculinity” as we’re using it here.

Jay is a queer, androgynous, and genderqueer human who loves poetry, books, and getting lost inside libraries. She was one of the first people I met when I moved to Los Angeles, and I was very drawn to her open honesty and her dry, absurdist sense of humor. After working together for several years, she’s become one of my closest confidants. Her curiosity about the world and dedication to growth makes her a well of insights, and it is for that reason that I was eager to interview her for this series. If you’ve ever heard me share wisdom from “a friend of mine,” I’m almost always talking about Jay.

What would you say are the characteristics of sacred masculinity?

I had to think a great deal about this question before answering! When I think about sacred masculinity, first I think about its opposite, toxic masculinity. This type of masculinity believes it has something to prove, is easily wounded, and is built upon maintaining ego and pride at the expense of everything else. It is a masculinity that hurts the people embodying this kind of expression, and the people around them. I think of sacred masculinity, in the simplest terms, as a kind of masculinity that has nothing to prove. Stable, confident, gentle, authentic. A person who embodies this kind of masculinity is comfortable in their own skin and also puts others at ease. They do not have anything to prove in terms of their strength or prowess or skill. They are living their truth and also seek to help others express their most authentic selves. It is a type of masculinity that recognizes that showing vulnerability is not a sign of weakness or failure, but instead a sign of tremendous strength and courage.

What do you think is needed for more of us to understand and embody these traits?

I think a great start would be to eliminate the incredibly divisive way in which we talk about gender. I feel like so much discourse I see around gender starts with sweeping generalizations like “Women do this, this and this” and “Men don’t understand this this and this,” and these dialogues only continue to drive people further apart. I do believe that men and women have unique and very different ways of being socialized that most certainly have a huge effect on how they move through the world and are perceived by society. However, if we could approach one another from a more open heart and mind when engaging in dialogue instead of immediately operating from a place of assumptions and stereotypes, I believe that could help us start to see one another’s humanity a little bit more and allow some of those preconceived notions to fall away. In doing so, I hope that could give way to more authentic expressions of masculinity (and femininity) that aren’t tied up in how people think they “should” or should not behave. I think so much toxic masculinity is rooted in fear of being seen as weak or inadequate, and sacred masculinity is the undoing of that fear and expressing one’s masculinity from a place of ease and grace and dignity.

Who are your archetypes of masculinity?

When I was growing up, the men I looked up to the most were the fathers of some of my friends who I wished could be my father. These men were kind to their children, always showed up when they said they would, were gentle but firm with discipline, had a strong presence without being intimidating. They coached me in little league. They helped me with my homework. They drove me home from school. They made bad jokes and made a whole group full of kids laugh and cringe simultaneously. They were comfortably themselves.

As someone assigned female at birth and raised and socialized as a girl, the concept of having any kind of archetypes of masculinity beyond a father figure is a very new thing for me. I was raised by several strong women and had many ideas of what it meant to be a woman growing up, but I also based a lot of what I thought a girl “should” be around what I thought it meant to be heterosexual and attractive to men. I had absolutely no LGBTQ role models growing up, nor any concept that being a masculine-presenting female was something to strive for or be empowered by. Instead, it was the opposite. Any traces of masculinity might lead people to think I was a lesbian, or even worse, a dyke. Beyond a somewhat ‘boyish’ aesthetic in my clothing choices, I didn’t want anything to do with masculinity in young adulthood. In my eyes, it would give me away as queer, and it would make me an ugly woman.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to unpack all of that shame from my past and I am very proud of being queer today. But still, I am learning and growing, and at the time of this interview, masculine archetypes are a novel concept for me. When I read up on masculine archetypes for this interview, the main four I saw were: King, Warrior, Magician and Lover. Regardless of my upbringing, I find it difficult to resonate with any of the traditional masculine archetypes because they feature men and their archetypal female counterparts who are women. From an archetypal stand point, this doesn’t bother me, because archetypes are meant to be very traditional representations of a certain idea or object or person. But pretty much every article about masculine archetypes I read had language like “As every man knows…” or “Taking the journey from boy to man” or “How to become the best man possible.”  As a queer person who doesn’t really fit into the gender binary and is not a man, I don’t feel these archetypes are particularly representative of my experience.

Now, beyond the father figures of my childhood, I will say that the place from which I derive the most strength and inspiration are other queer people assigned female at birth like me and who have been socialized female, who are gender non conforming in some way and navigating masculinity and queerness in a heteronormative world as best they can. One of my all time inspirations is queer and non-binary poet Andrea Gibson (who also sometimes goes by Andrew). Their poetry is prolific and covers a range of topics like queer relationships, politics, how to better navigate white privilege, gendered violence, gender ambiguity, hope, love, sex, and just the wild experience of being human, regardless of our background.

How would you re-define the phrase, “be a man?”

When I was about 9 or 10 years old, my grandmother was taking care of me. At one point I did something rude and acted out and yelled at her, to which she responded, “That is not very ladylike.” My response? “I’m not a lady!” There is no doubt that my rudeness towards my grandmother needed to be disciplined, but instead of being told why my behavior was wrong from a human stand point, it was filtered through a gendered lens. According to what I was told by my grandmother, I shouldn’t have acted out not because it was rude, or because I could have expressed my feelings more calmly, but because it wasn’t ladylike. My behavior signaled I was doing my gender wrong. Even then, I knew this was bullshit. I knew at 10 years old I was certainly not a “lady” or what a lady was expected to be. But I definitely knew better than to yell at my grandma, too. And had she left gender out of it, she certainly could have helped me own up to my behavior and apologize to her the way I should have, instead of fighting her even further over not being a “lady.”

So how would I re-define the phrase “be a man?” I wouldn’t. I would get rid of this phrase completely. I strongly oppose language or phrases that encourage or reinforce behaviors based on one’s gender (or perceived gender.) I think in its purest form, the phrase “be a man” means to step up, to do the right thing, and be mature. And those are all great things to strive for. So why can’t we just use this kind of language to encourage men AND women to be grown adults and act in the most mature way possible? “Be a man” also has a lot of negative connotations as well, like “don’t be a wimp,” “give into peer pressure,”  “take a potentially dangerous risk,” or “be aggressive/fight/take what’s ‘yours.’” So again, because of all the negative connotations associated with this phrase, I’d completely eliminate the phrase, and just start encouraging men and women to listen to their instincts, be mature, and make healthy and honorable choices.

What do you think we’ve been getting wrong about masculinity?

For starters, that it belongs to men, that men are obligated to be masculine, and only certain types of masculinity are “right” or “valid.” Once, when I was trying to talk about what my masculinity meant to me with a family member, she responded, “But you’re so pretty, how can you possibly think of yourself as masculine?” There was so much contained in that statement. First of all, there was this underlying idea that prettiness and masculinity are somehow mutually exclusive. There was also this underlying idea that masculinity in women or those assigned female must be ugly or unattractive if I was in fact “so pretty”, and therefore, based on that logic, unable to be masculine. I felt fairly defeated in that moment, because I wondered if that’s how everyone was seeing me, as just a pretty girl, and not as the masculine and androgynous individual who I know myself to be. But that experience also gave me more determination to define for myself what exactly masculinity is and isn’t, and to continue living my truth, regardless of what others may think of me.

What is your favorite thing about navigating and expressing your masculinity while moving through the world being perceived as a woman?

From the time I was a child, I always felt like one of the girls and one of the boys, and moved very easily and happily between the two groups. I was a girl scout and a baseball player on an all boys team. I really do feel that I had a girlhood as well as a boyhood in a way that is sometimes difficult to articulate. As an adult, my experience is still very similar. I am often treated like one of the guys around men. I am included in groups of women and assumed to be one of them, and am treated with the same respect as any other woman. I feel neither distinctly woman nor man but more a hybrid of both. I believe my androgyny is part of what allows me to interact with others from a place of openness and curiosity, because I don’t carry as many preconceived notions about gender as I used to, nor do I feel I have to “perform” my gender (or my sexuality) in a certain way anymore.

What do you believe might be the future of masculinity?

I truly don’t know at this moment, but I hope that it is one in which we see toxic masculinity dying a blazing, fiery death, and out of that ash and destruction, we hopefully see more loving, wholesome and authentic expressions of masculinity rising up to take its place.

Tom Rogers on “Sacred Masculinity”

If you haven’t yet read my introduction to this series, please do. It provides a foundation for these interviews, and defines “sacred masculinity” as we’re using it here.

I’m beyond delighted to share with you the words of someone who had a powerful influence on my career-  my high school homeroom and sex ed teacher, Mr. Tom Rogers. It’s a sweet homecoming for me to have the opportunity to interview him at all, but even better is that his response is a shining example of his signature positive influence.

Tom spent a solid portion of his life as a teacher, having focused in college on biblical studies. I imagine there were several challenges to effectively teaching sex ed in a Catholic high school, so I’m all the more impressed and grateful that he approached the subject comfortably, candidly, and with plenty of humor.

He now works at what he jokes is Rogers’ Desert Rest. I follow him on social media, and this man is clearly doing retirement right. It’s no surprise to me. He always struck me as having boatloads of emotional intelligence, and I do believe you’re about to see what I mean.

I remember being told I was a boy. I do not think I have ever been certain, man or boy, what that truly meant. Life does not give us a chance to wait to be sure. It lives and so must we, full of doubt, and endeavor of faith.

Comparison and contrast seem to me the two feet of living. So I remember watching men and older boys to find a model to copy. From as long as I can remember I had an intuition to spot the phonies. It was as if I had a built in bullshit detector. It sounded most loudly at evidence of exaggeration. The overblown, the overly insistent, the demanding. Bullies and braggarts repelled me with what I would later learn was called inauthenticity. So I decided to be a truth-teller and as much as possible a person who lives his truth.

I remember how fascinated I was with what then I thought was my opposite. I was told that they were girls. I liked them from the very start! As I look back now I am realizing that I think I thought they were more real, confident in who they were. I wanted to be friends with girls, get closer to them to see them up close maybe this was because I felt closer to my mother’s way of being than my father’s distant busy-ness with the things of manhood. So the contrast I sought (can I figure out how to be a boy by not being a girl?) was a path I rejected early. Instead I searched for friends, like-minded peers who shared my disdain for the caricatured machos and the silly flirts.

My first masculine role models were the religious brothers who taught the boys from 6-8th grade. My favorites were the really smart ones who captured my interest by their passion for whatever stories they were telling. Their vitality in the classroom as well as the athletic field resonated with the person I was becoming. They displayed a kind of powerful humility. No boasting, just real knowledge and real action. I admired how they always had time for us. We were their work, their project and I realize now that I felt so proud that they never seemed bored with us. I felt relevant, meaningful.

An incident occurred with one of these brothers that helped me define myself to my surprise. He asked me to stay after school to talk about something. He got right to the point. Did I ever think about becoming a brother? I answered immediately. “I like girls too much!” He looked disappointed. I think I too felt a loss of connection to one of my heroes. Pursuing the truth of this statement became an important quest for me.

The sexual desire that drove me out of myself, this great gift of relating, proved very challenging and engaged me in a most difficult struggle with myself and my desire for sexual pleasure. My ideal of honesty at times seemed at stake, as dishonesty proved a better way to navigate the way into a girl’s arms. Whether it was my Catholic guilt or a more profound loyalty to my truth, I never became comfortable with deception.

Fortunately for me, I found an honest erotic love at a young age. It may not sound romantic but I feel like responsibility was one of the strongest ways I experienced my role in this life changing relationship. Caring translated into taking care of another person. This became our path as we served each other with heartfelt passion in every room in our many apartments.

We became parents and partners in what we still experience as the mystery of our life together. As a father of four boys, I sometimes felt as if I knew what each of these boys needed by tapping into the unmet needs of my own father-son relationship. Freedom to be themselves as their own gifts emerged was the gift I wanted to give them and yet I know I placed strong demands on them when I feared that my shaping hand was failing.

As a teacher I feel like I found the best vocation to give to others as they strove to grow and mature. Though my sex education classes came about quite accidentally, I found there a natural way to help lead young people out of shame and confusion but also affirm their erotic awakenings. I believe together we discovered a sensual path to healthy and healthful sexual development with lots of laughter along the way.

Later in my life after retirement I found myself, like Dante, in a dark wood. My journey through a most unexpected depression proved an encounter with the vulnerability I had fought against in all of the expressions of my masculinity. A sober realism provided the tempering influence to an idealism and high energy generativity that I thought wholly defined me. I learned in a therapeutic dialogue that an acceptance of the real was necessary to keep hold of my self as a powerful yet far from omnipotent creature.

As I look toward the future I take comfort in the many young fathers I know who proudly nurture their children and welcome a balanced partnership with their beloved.

Mo Beasley on “Sacred Masculinity”

If you haven’t yet read my introduction to this series, please do. It provides a foundation for these interviews, and defines “sacred masculinity” as we’re using it here.

Mo Beasley is an award-winning performance artist, author, educator, and community organizer. He’s the founder of Urban Erotika, a performance series celebrating erotic love through poetry, spoken word, music, dance, and theatre.

I had the very great honor of meeting him at the Catalyst Conference a few years ago, and he’s been an inspirational force in my life ever since. He’s sharp, passionate, and has a clarity about life that regularly amazes me.  Whenever we talk or I get to hear him speak, I’m left both calm and energized. I hope you’ll have a similar experience here in reading his reflections on sacred masculinity and his experience of being a man.

What would you say are the characteristics of sacred masculinity?

  • Respect, Reverence, and Love for the natural world, seen and unseen.
  • A secure and serene disposition; open and unafraid of the different, uncommon, unusual, normal, non-traditional, and traditional aspects of masculinity.
  • A melding of perennially positive and emerging aspects of ever-evolving masculinity.
  • The use of “Sankofa” as a guiding light.  “Sankofa” [of the Akan people of West Africa] teaches us that we must go back to our roots in order to move forward. That is, we should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward. Whatever we have lost, forgotten, forgone, or been stripped of can be reclaimed, revived, preserved, and perpetuated.

Who are your archetypes of masculinity?

  • My maternal uncles and older cousins [blues men who made something from nothing with their lives, careers, and families; on terms beyond mainstream standards].
  • Jesus Christ
  • Malcolm X
  • Prince
  • Buddha
  • Obatala
  • James Baldwin

What do you think is needed for more of us to understand and embody these traits?

Valuing “Emotional Intelligence” and a sincere pursuit of holistic growth that finds us consistently reaching to be physically, psychologically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually balanced. Doesn’t matter if we ever reach full balance. “The Joy is The Journey.” A spiritual foundation, of some form, that grounds you in a belief system that challenges you to grow.

What role(s) do you believe the masculine has in regards to the feminine? What do you see as a balanced dynamic there?

The masculine and feminine complement each other within all of us. Those two energies are two halves of the whole that makes us who we are. Just as we’re all children of our mothers and fathers we are products of feminine and masculine forces. Each instant, moment, challenge, opportunity…in life requires us to access one or both of those energies. If one of those forces are given more attention in our lives we approach everything from one perspective, whether it is productive or not, thus living an imbalanced life. If a hammer is your only tool for every choice in life the path you leave behind will be dented even in places where a flowers were meant to grow. The masculine is the yin to the feminine’s yang; and vice versa.

What is the role of vulnerability in strength?

Vulnerability tempers steels and allows it to be pliable, firm, soft [which doesn't mean "weak"], stern, flexible, or solid when necessary.

How would you re-define the phrase, “be a man?”

  • “Act Like An Adult”
  • “Stand your ground/on your own convictions”
  • “Be Strong”
  • “Be Smart”
  • “Be Wise”

What do you think we’ve been getting wrong about masculinity?

Believing that it should dominant femininity; that it’s greater, better, more valuable than femininity.

What’s your favorite thing about being a man?

  • Having a penis is fantastic. [It was my knee jerk response. I was about to edit it myself with something more..."elevated." But, the first thought is the honest answer.]
  • An objective perspective on women.
  • Physical prowess.
  • My male mind. I do like the default aggression and logical disposition of being male.  It may seem stereotypical to say that men are innately aggressive and logically orientated, but there is some truth in that perspective.  I do believe men are more sensitive creations, thus our often explosive reactions when our feelings are hurt or egos bruised. And, I also believe my male instinct to assess situations and collect data before reacting emotionally is pretty cool. It shows up especially in my role as father.  I have 3 daughters, and a grand-daughter. [My Baboloa aka, my spiritual coach, says I have some Karma to work out with women...FOR SURE!] My daughters are 33, 11, and 9, and my grand-daughter is 14. When my eldest calls in an uproar about personal and/or family issues she’s calling for her daddy to be the calm in her storm. To let her rage and then give her thought-filled food for thought, fueled by the emotion of love, and guided by reason. My “male mind” is always trying to find the solution or the fix.  I’ve learned the hard way that my ‘”male minded” approach isn’t always whats needed. Especially when it comes to the women in my life. Often, an ear or shoulder is what is needed. I get that and still dig my knee jerk analysis of situations and desire to “cut to the bone” of the matter and decide on a course of action.

What do you believe might be the future of masculinity?

A re-definition beyond what our fathers have passed on to us.

Follow Mo and Urban Erotika on Twitter. You can also hear us talk about the intersection of somatics, sex-positivity, and activism at the upcoming Catalyst Conference this May.

Dr. Joel Schwartz on “Sacred Masculinity”

If you haven’t yet read my introduction to this series, please do. It provides a foundation for these interviews, and defines “sacred masculinity” as we’re using it here.

Joel Schwartz is a clinical psychologist with a beautifully broad range of clinical experience. He works from a relational psychodynamic perspective, and his practice is largely focused on adults with childhood trauma and neurologically diverse children and adults. He also works with psychosis, where I find that his fiercely humanistic stance on psychotherapy really shines through. He is better than perhaps anyone else I know at meeting someone exactly where they are.

We met when we found ourselves to be the only sex-positive voices in an online conversation with several colleagues. I promptly reached out so that we could meet in person, and he’s been a good friend and favorite colleague ever since.

Joel was an easy choice for kicking off this series, because he majorly gets it and is a very active part of creating a world in which masculinity can be embodied in a safe and valuable way.

Foreword from Joel:

I know it is no fun to start out something like this with a bunch of disclaimers and pre-emptive explanations, but based on how things like this seem to be powder kegs these days, I feel I must. It is difficult to even talk about the term masculinity, since what is culturally deemed as masculine and feminine traits are inherently tied to somewhat sexist understanding of these. We know unequivocally that there is much more variance among the sexes than between them, so there is something inherently difficult in talking about masculine and feminine without falling prey to gender essentialism. The language we use, and the language I will use, are inherently tied to culturally defined gender expectations. What I am saying is that the terms themselves, masculine and feminine, are tied to cultural constructions based of perceived sex differences. Yet these embodied energies are not literal and exist in all of us.

And now the powder keg: although I am a feminist, I don’t fully subscribe to the post-modern feminist idea that all sex differences are culturally constructed. Although any person of any gender may embody various degrees of masculinity and femininity, and sex differences ought not determine status, behavior, etc., if we ignore the very real sexual dimorphism in our species, we miss something crucial about our species. (Sexual dimorphism is the term evolutionary biologists use to describe the differences in appearance between males and females of the same species, such as in colour, shape, size, and structure; in general, the greater the sexual dimorphism in a species, the more “specialized” the male/female behavior.)

So if we take as a given that what has been culturally defined by the word masculinity, or masculine traits come from what is prototypically male, and cultural ideas of femininity and feminine traits come from what is prototypically female, I have to ask, what are the true differences between males and females? What I have come to is this: obviously, females are uniquely able to carry and birth children, whereas males are uniquely able to build muscle and yield destructive power. I think that’s really the only differences. Now how these differences manifest as behavior is still a matter of culture. So from that, I have come to this conclusion: femininity is intimately tied to the power to create, and masculinity to the power to destroy.

I want to emphasize that there is, in my mind, no judgment or moral dimension to the inherent destructiveness of masculinity or the inherent creativity of femininity that I speak of. As any honest artist will tell you, there is something profoundly selfish about the creative process. One must be obsessive and myopic to birth something of worth. Conversely, there can be something wonderfully freeing and good about destruction. I imagine a toddler breaking a Duplo tower, looking menacingly at their parents, and all three sharing in a diabolical laugh. There is nothing inherently bad about destruction, or inherently good about creation. These are energies that can be put to nefarious or positive means.

But this idea of creativity and destruction is a yin/yang – it’s a dialectic – not so disparate. We must create in order to destroy, and we must destroy in order to create. The feminine power of creation can create terrible things and terrible people. And the power to destroy can be used in a beneficent manner. We create an atomic bomb to kill millions. We destroy a tree to create a canvas, then destroy the canvas to create a painting. We murder to keep our children safe from horrific people. We kill animals to feed ourselves and our children. We burn the fields to make them fertile for new life. We thrash the wilderness to discover new vistas. And this yin/yang exists in all of us. We are all capable of great feats of creativity, and great feats of destruction.

So what is sacred masculinity? I think it is owning the power to destroy, the urge to destroy, the primordial part of us that wants to hurt, kill, maim. It is acknowledging that shadow is there, and then using it in a way that serves the greater good. Another thought comes to mind – it is clear that so many horrors in the world are perpetuated by men who think they are acting for the greater good. So part of this entails taking time to truly understand all perspectives, to be wise, to incorporate the elements of the sacred feminine. Toxic masculinity is forcing one’s masculinity on others. Sacred masculinity is offering up masculinity as a tool to protect and aid in creation while listening to the feedback of others.

Who are your archetypes of masculinity?

I’ve always been attracted to the reluctant hero. I am a big sci/fi horror geek. I particularly love John Carpenter’s movies from the 80s and early 90s. In almost all his films, from the serious to the zany, there is a reluctant hero. Even the bumbling characters are reluctant heroes. People find themselves in circumstances well beyond their control and rise to the calling. They are not looking for trouble, they are not going out to conquer. But they are called to be heroes, to protect, to overcome any fear they may have in order to fight and protect. Men and women alike – Laurie Strode in “Halloween” and Stevie Wayne in “The Fog” are just as heroic and bad ass as Snake Plissken in “Escape from New York” and R.J. MacReady in “The Thing.” Sometimes their motives are selfish. Sometimes they are simply ignorant of what is going on around them. Sometimes they aren’t the smartest character. But as Egg Shen says in “Big Trouble in Little China,” “You leave Jack Burton alone! He showed great bravery.” (All of these male characters are played by Kurt Russel by the way, whom I have a bit of a man-crush on. He seems to me to embody these traits in real life as well in the way he has been a father to Kate Hudson, a partner to Goldie Hawn, and in some of his philanthropy efforts. Also despite his fame, he doesn’t flaunt it.)

Of course I also admire heroes who willingly put themselves in harm’s way – our service people, fire fighters, etc. These individuals embody many aspects of sacred masculinity. But there is something special in the story of the person who looks around, and says, “I may not be the best, the strongest, the smartest, but I can do this, so I will.”

What do you think is needed for more of us to understand and embody these traits?

We live in a culture right now that has pathologically dissociated the masculine. When children rough house or a boy kisses a girl on the playground, the adults are up in arms. These normal ways of playing, that yes, are sometimes violent and sometimes based in non-consensual behavior, are part of growing up. We need to play with our shadows to get to know them. We need to have that experience of hitting someone, seeing them recoil, hearing them say “ouch!” and stop being our friend to truly understand the power we yield and learn to master it. Kids aren’t allowed to play, to explore, to get hurt, to get in to get in trouble without the specter of shame constantly invalidating them.

This is not to say, “boys will be boys.” Somewhere between shaming and complete permissiveness is empathetic correction and social learning. Psychoanalyst Donald W. Winnicott wrote a really fascinating thought exercise. He sets up a situation where a baby hits their mother, and the mother says, “Ouch!” and gently holds the baby’s arm. But in the first scenario, the “ouch” is filled with fear, shame, and judgment. It communicates that the child’s power in unacceptable, their aggression necessarily an impediment to being loved. In the second scenario, the “ouch” communicates appreciation at power as if to say, “What strength you have!” In both cases, the mother’s reaction serves as a corrective. It teaches the child not to hit. But in the latter scenario, there is no shame. In the same way, we need to appreciate how that playground kiss or rough-housing is about connection, bonding, and needs being met. Adults can appreciate and validate this, while emphatically guiding children toward more acceptable behavior that is consensual.

All of these experiences are tantamount to get to know and master our darker selves. Our culture needs to better integrate our destructive qualities. Instead we dissociate them, and create dangerous pockets of destructiveness – from football games to war. Destructiveness is only allowed in an arena of violence and death, not in the everyday yin/yang of existence.

What is the role of vulnerability in strength?

Oooh great question! I think it harkens back to what I said above about forcing one’s masculinity versus offering it. When you offer something, you chance getting rejected. You chance being rendered useless (at least in that moment). So to cautiously offer one’s power takes vulnerability. I remember one formative experience I had with a former supervisor (a woman), with whom I also co-taught a class. We had had many important discussions about masculinity, feminism, power, etc. The class ended at night, and I had the thought that I ought to walk her to her car. I wanted to be the hero- “I’ll keep you safe, ma’am!” But I somehow I recognized that this was subtly forcing her. Maybe she didn’t want accompaniment. Maybe, despite our familiarity, it would be uncomfortable for her to be alone in the the dark with a 6’3” man. So instead, I asked. I said, “If you’d like, I am happy to wait and walk you to your car. Would you like that?” She hesitated for a second, then said yes. Our eyes met and there was this wonderful moment of love, affection, and appreciation for one another. I remember distinctly thinking, “So that’s how you do it.”

I think another part of it is willing to be wrong – to take in others’ opinions and feedback without becoming defensive or double-downing on your initial thought. Captain Picard (my favorite Star Trek captain and perhaps another great archetypal character) comes to mind. Unlike the impetuous and often violent Kirk, Picard always asked his crew their thoughts. Even if he disagreed, he gave them a voice and considered others’ wisdom. And then he’d make a decision and take full responsibility as Captain.

How would you re-define the phrase, “be a man?”

An ugly phrase, always meant to shame and hurt. I’d prefer it struck completely than redefined. When I work with young males in therapy, I have them identify their own favorite characters and real people they admire. In times of ambiguity I ask them how the character/person would act. So maybe instead of “Be a man!” we can say, “What would a hero do?”

What do you think we’ve been getting wrong about masculinity?

Along the lines of what I said earlier – we don’t understand that the it is the same force that creates toxic and sacred masculinity. We see the toxic and wish to completely do away with it, to hide it, to punish it, to shame it. And as a result, it just becomes more toxic.

What’s your favorite thing about being a man?

It’s hard to say. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to love being able to wield my power in a way that does good. I’m a tall, white male. I have a doctorate in psychology. It would not be difficult to wield that power in a selfish, fraudulent, and destructive way. Our airwaves are filled with exploitative, handsome, male doctors selling hope and bullshit to inflate their pocketbooks. I am aware of inherent power and influence I hold. I am getting more and more pleasure in using that in a way that betters everyone. For example, when I’m in a group and I notice all eyes on me, I will purposefully defer to the more quiet and timid members who I know are just as smart and capable (if not more so). I think this is an example of owning and using the shadow. I am aware that there is a part of me that loves and thrives on that kind of attention. I know I can get that kind of attention. When I was younger, I may not have given it up so easily. And so now I use it in service of others, and I get great pangs of pleasure having paved the way for someone else to have a voice when they otherwise would not have.

I also love my male relationships. There is a banter, a wit, a loving challenge in way we rib each other. It challenges us to be more creative in the moment. Another example of the yin/yang I just realized! We yield our destructive power in way that builds grit, confidence, quick thinking, and camaraderie.

Finally, I love being a father and husband. I love when I get to show up in these capacities and either do something that helps my wife relax or challenges my son to be better.

What do you believe might be the future of masculinity?

I struggle between optimism and despair in this. All indications point to terrible things happening in the name of masculinity. Politics, school shootings, rewarded narcissism in pop-culture. But this may too be part of the yin/yang. These destructive parts need to make themselves known before we can embrace and change them into better forms.

Isn’t he swell? Please feel free to chime in with your thoughts or questions below.
Learn more about or contact Joel via his blog, Twitter, or through PsychToday.